Review: Crimson Peak

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DIR: Guillermo del Toro • WRI: Guillermo del Toro • Matthew Robbins • PRO: Guillermo del Toro, Callum Greene, Jon Jashni, Thomas Tull • DOP: Dan Laustsen • ED: Bernat Vilaplana • DES: Thomas E. Sanders • MUS: Fernando Velázquez • CAST: Charlie Hunnam, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston

 

Poor Guillermo del Toro, he really hasn’t been able to catch a break of late. If it’s not his long-gestating At the Mountains of Madness being forever passed on, or Hellboy 3 looking less and less likely each year, it’s his Justice League Dark script being the only property not currently in development at DC and Konami (obligatory #FucKonami to all you Jim Sterling fans out there) abruptly cancelling his very promising-looking Silent Hills. Even the all-but-guaranteed Pacific Rim 2 seems to have quietly died. So it’s nice to see a clear passion project like Crimson Peak make it to the big screen on a sizeable budget, with a great cast and a mature age rating.

Edith (Wasikowska) is an aspiring novelist and heir to a not insubstantial estate. She can also see ghosts. One day the effortlessly charming Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston) arrives for a meeting with her father and wastes no time in inducing some swooning. After a whirlwind romance and a violent tragedy, Edith and Thomas are wed and return to his native England to live in his family estate with his reserved and unsettling sister Lucille (Chastain). The estate in question is the textbook definition of beautiful decay; an impossibly large and decrepit country manor with a gargantuan hole in the roof and the clay mines below trying to reclaim it for the earth. Aside from an icy reception from Lucille, things seem to be going well for Edith until the ghosts start screaming at her in the middle of the night. As Edith grows mysteriously ill and the ghost encounters grow more intense, can Edith discover what the mystery that lies at the heart of the Sharpe estate is?

In the broadest terms, Crimson Peak could be pretty comfortably described as a more visually sumptuous but significantly less subtle Penny Dreadful (indeed, if it turns out that Eva Green was at some point in the running for Chastain’s role, it would be far from surprising). The directing, the cinematography, art direction, set and costume design etc. are all unassailable in their quality and in their success at creating and immersing you in the sweeping unreality of this heightened Gothic world. The performances too, mainly Hiddleston and Chastain, do an excellent job of grounding the story (on an emotional level) in a believable world. Wasikowska is her usual dependable self but doesn’t quite rise to the other two leads’ level. The supporting cast are more of a mixed bag, especially in the early scenes. A lot of the actors quite visibly struggle with the intentionally clunky, old fashioned dialogue but what really draws your attention to it is just how effortlessly Hiddleston engages with it. This leads to odd moments early on where there’s an obvious gap in acting quality between performers.

Make no mistake, the film is worth seeing for the overall world/visuals alone and that’s definitely for the best as everything else is disappointingly ordinary. First of all, ignore what the trailers may have told you; while there are some horror elements, this is a Gothic romance through and through. That’s not inherently a bad thing at all but it does make the few ghost encounters seem a tad incongruous, especially presented as they are within a very generically modern, jump-scare mould. Similarly, while there are some well staged, shocking moments in the overall story, the mystery itself and its particulars are very obvious (pretty much from the start) if you’re paying attention. The few, sudden injections of extreme violence and brutality do at least shake things up on that front. And make no mistake, this is proper violence. There’s one particular head-smashing which rivals Game of Thrones’ own infamous head-crush for shear excessive realism.

For all its self awareness of its own tropes (Edith being told her own ghostly tale ‘needs a love story’ by another character) and its very knowing engagement with them, the film is slightly disappointing on a story level. You could easily sit for hours just watching the camera swoop and glide around the genuinely jaw-dropping set for the house itself and there’s dozens of individual shots that would make a great coffee table book collection but ultimately it’s a film you can only fully enjoy while looking at rather than being swept up in.

 Richard Drumm

15A (see IFCO for details)

118minutes

Crimson Peak is released 16th October 2015

Crimson Peak –  Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: Pacific Rim

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DIR: Guillermo del Toro • WRI: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro  PRO: Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Thomas Tull DOP: Guillermo Navarro  ED: Peter Amundson, John Gilroy  DES:Andrew Neskoromny, Carol Spier  CAST: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day
 

With the major exception of Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro has always excelled at style over substance, producing gorgeously imagined films with tiresome scripts, clichéd stories and cardboard cut-out villains. This time, for once, this is the kind of film del Toro is actually trying to make! The bottom of the ocean aside, there is no depth to Pacific Rim, and no one making it seems to care about that. Why should they? Pacific Rim has monsters! Giant monsters! And robots! Giant robots! And the giant monsters, and the giant robots? They fight!

Opening with a barrage of exposition that could’ve fleshed out a whole trilogy, Pacific Rim rapidly tells us how alien mega-beasties, named ‘Kaiju’ for the Japanese subgenre that gave us Godzilla and Mothra, emerged from a dimensional portal at the bottom of the Pacific and began destroying major seaboard cities. Quickly responding to the attacks by increasingly larger creatures, mankind rallied and built giant robots, ‘Jaegers’, to do combat with them. As the film begins the war is being won, but as the Kaiju evolve to tackle everything the Jaegers can throw at them, things soon turn nasty, and the Earth’s last line of defence begins to run out of pilots and steel.

PTSD-riddled Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) gets re-drafted as desperate times call for desperate soldiers. Under the command of no-nonsense boss Marshal Stacker (Idris Elba), he joins a tiny team of remaining Jaeger operators to launch a final assault on the rising Kaiju threat. In a subplot, goofy biologist Newton (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Charlie Day) and flamboyant boffin Gottlieb (Burn Gorman, doing a bizarre impression of Lee Evans from There’s Something About Mary) try to discover the truth behind the Kaiju, with the help of black marketeer Hannibal Chou (a scene-chewing, golden-shoed turn by del Toro stalwart Ron Perlman).

Devoid of pretension but equally lacking in good dialogue and characters, Pacific Rim is a big movie for big kids. The characters are all action movie clichés, from the shoulder-raising Ruskies to the young Australian pilot who thinks Raleigh is a renegade and endangering the mission but eventually comes to the understanding that he is, in fact, top robot gun. A romance bubbles between Raleigh and his co-pilot Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), but whether for sloppy writing or conservative inter-racial reasons it never properly catches fire. Idris Elba shouts lines whenever required to by the drama.

“But what about the robot/monster fights?” you asked a few paragraphs back. Well, for the most part they’re kind of awesome. Kind of really awesome. Keenly choreographed and using all kinds of props (cranes, bridges, ships) to great effect, the punching and clawing and hurling never stops being fun, or very very loud. The Jaegers repeatedly surprise, with all kinds of weaponry emerging from their chassis like an enormous Swiss Army Bot. The “rocket elbow”, which ignites to throw an even more face-crushing punch, is a particular favourite, but only one of many. Sadly we get to see very little of the three-armed Chinese Jaeger Crimson Typhoon. Did somebody say “prequel”?

The problem with the fights is that, for the most part, they are held at night, making some of the visuals difficult to make out in the hurly-burly of metal fists and whipping tails. The endless rain doesn’t help much, nor does the fact a pivotal action sequence takes place underwater. We rarely get a proper look at the constantly moving Kaiju, which is a shame given how remarkably well designed they are. Many of the Kaiju battles shown briefly in flashback occur during the day, and it’s hard not to feel like the best stuff was never actually filmed.

But what you can see of the film looks amazing, and del Toro uses plenty of finely designed sets to accompany the digital effects work. Hannibal Chou’s domain in particular, full of jars of Kaiju organs and assorted body parts, feels truly del Toro, recalling both The Devil’s Backbone and Hellboy 2’s Troll Market. He may not be much of a writer, but del Toro has an eye as crafty as his imagination, and where the drama dips from time to time, the visuals are never dull.

While the crashing of metal and Kaiju skull is often deafening, one of the big highlights of Pacific Rim is its score, composed by Ramin Djawadi, best known for the booming flurry that opens each episode of Game of Thrones. This score is equally bombastic, as grand and overpowering as the Jaegers themselves, with audible echoes of that manliest of songs, ‘Sledgehammer’ by Peter Gabriel. In its electric and orchestral forms, the main theme with drill itself into your ear and have you humming its main refrain for hours afterwards.

Doing exactly what it says on its hulking robot tin, Pacific Rim is a mindless blockbuster par excellence. Which is not to say it’s a particularly good movie, but it’s sure as hell a great entertainment. I won’t even say “switch your brain off on the way in”; with its blistering visuals and ear-pumping sounds, Pacific Rim will very much take care of your brain for you.

David Neary

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details) 

131mins
Pacific Rim is released on 12th July 2013

Pacific Rim – Official Website

 

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What We Webbed

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Milk and Maternity in Safe

A video essay on Todd Haynes’s 1995 film Safe by Amber Jacobs and Catherine Grant.

 

 

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I know that letter…

Can you guess the film from the letter? Empire online have a head-scratching 46 for you.

 

 

 

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Del Toro’s scary ad 

A young Guillermo Del Toro directed this 1991 Alka Seltzer commercial, which points the way to his later work.

 

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What We Webbed

 

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Try your hand at The Great Gatsby, a literary classic turned old-school video game adventure.

Nice to see, you old sport.Yes it’s in the cinema. But have you tried the 8-bit take on one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. “Doki Doki Toshokan: Gatsby no Monogatari”.

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Guillermo del Toro  directs Alka Seltzer Ad

Check out this 20-year-old Spanish Alka Seltzer ad that Guillermo del Toro directed and acted in as a young man. Yes there’s horror!

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Death and the Detective: Vertigo Revisited

Once upon a time an 11-year-old boy went to see the new Hitchcock movie.
He came home crying, and didn’t understand why.
Fifty-two years later, he thinks he knows.

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DVD Review: Julia’s Eyes

Where's that tea towel?

 

When you stamp Mexican director and producer Guillermo del Toro’s name on a movie its appeal is sure to increase considerably. The visionary master of the gothic, fantastical and downright eerie lent his production hand to this atmospheric Spanish horror/thriller, reigning in his usual ghoulish visuals to help create something more of a psychological (yet at times shocking) affair.

Sara is blind, in her house during a power cut, visibly distressed and aggressively talking to an invisible man – or is he invisible? When she is found hanged in her basement, her twin sister Julia, who suffers from the same degenerative sight defect, is immediately sceptical that her sister’s death was suicide and goes on a dangerous quest to get to the bottom of her death. She soon finds herself being stalked by an evasive stranger with a camera, a shadow that always seems to be one step ahead of her. Unfortunately nobody believes Julia’s urgent insistence that there was someone else involved in Sara’s death – she is very much on her own and time is running out as her eyesight rapidly deteriorates and the shadow starts to become a very real threat.

Julia’s Eyes begins with a punch, an opening scene that captivates the viewer with a symphony of intrigue. It’s an irresistible premise, straddling the genres of horror and thriller, offering the promise of an uneven road encumbered with multiple twists and turns. Unfortunately the movie fails to deliver on the promise of the first thirty minutes, it soon begins to unravel as it loses the run of itself and by the closing scenes it appears to have morphed into somewhat of a mundane thriller.

That said the movie addresses a haunting concept: the fear of going blind, of losing independence and worst of all, of losing control. The director adapts some interesting and effective visual techniques in an effort to shift our perspective to that of Julia’s – from the moment her vision begins to fade we no longer see the faces of the people she encounters, we only glimpse the backs of heads or shots from the neck down which is both frustrating and wonderfully effective – suddenly the facial expressions we rely so heavily on to assess a character or a situation are withheld from us. We can begin to understand Julia’s frustration, her helplessness, her reliance on sound, sense and increasingly, on instinct. It certainly is an intriguing premise but too much emphasis lies on creating jumps and shock tactics to give the story breathing space and allow the narrative to come to fruition.

This was a slightly disappointing movie given its impressive beginning and its renowned producer but it is certainly worth the watch nonetheless.

Emma O’Donoghue

Julia’s Eyes is released on DVD on 12th September

  • Format: PAL
  • Language Spanish
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 2
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 15
  • Studio: Optimum Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: 12th Sep 2011

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLhyz_DtlbQ

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Cinema Review: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Holmes keeps a watch out for returning spaceships

DIR: Troy Nixey • WRI:  Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins • PRO: Mark Johnson, Guillermo del Toro • DOP: Oliver Stapleton • ED: Jill Bilcock • DES: Roger Ford • CAST: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison

Over the last couple of years, Guillermo Del Toro’s name has become synonymous with atmospheric horror, having presented us with modern Spanish horror classics like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage. This year he lends his title, and his pen to Hollywood horror with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

A young father (Guy Pierce) moves into an inevitably creepy old home with his daughter and new girlfriend. Pierce plays the distracted father role excellently; everything that needs to be said is done so in silence. It has been a while since Katie Holmes has appeared on our screens and here she makes an unexpected move into the horror genre. She is effortlessly believable as the young woman caught up in a new life and unsure in her new maternal role.

Bailee Madison excels as 10 year old Sally, curious and mildly lonesome; she immediately draws the audience into her world. Madison has a fierceness rarely seen in young actresses, and she looks set to be the next big (or small) thing. This movie hinges on Sally’s experience, we are thrust into her world and forced to see everything from her perspective. We are adults in a Montessori where nothing quite fits us, which adds a level of tension to the entire piece.

From the outset this movie sets itself out as being the typical ‘haunted house’ movie. There is nothing more likely to awaken the frightened child within us than the haunted house movie. Our homes are often where we feel safe, and it’s long been a common theme in horror to upset that balance. The new house is at once imposing and frightening, the type of house that makes us squeal internally. The wonderful thing here is the creator’s willingness to adapt generic staples.

The most refreshing generic change here is, for me, the basement. The basement area, along with the attic is a horror favourite, drawing from the notion of the Unheimlich. These areas are traditionally not lived in, and, as such, present a threat to the other areas of the house and their inhabitants. The difference in this movie is that the basement area was clearly once very much lived in, maybe even comfortable. It doesn’t have that immediately eerie atmosphere of the unlived space. Somehow the idea that the basement was once a lived space makes the hair stand on end as it is unexpected, and infuses the area with a life of its own.

Unfortunately this narrative falls flat towards the end, when we come face to face with the source of our fears. As the incomparable Stephen King says: ‘Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.’ What scares the audience most is the unknown. This fear mounts throughout the movie, but dies a swift death when we view our scampering CGI aggressors. Had this film stayed atmospheric and not ventured into over-explanations, we might have had a near-perfect horror movie on our hands.

The climax is mildly disappointing, but there is enough atmosphere here to allow us to be thrust completely into the narrative. It may skim perfection, but it’s the closest that horror has gotten for a very long time. Guillermo Del Toro brings his special brand of atmosphere to the Hollywood stage, and proves that he is indeed the master of the genre. For a horror fan like myself, this was a refreshing change from the recent onslaught of ridiculousness.

Ciara O’Brien

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is released on 30th September 2011

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – Official Website

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Julia's Eyes

DIR: Guillem Morales • WRI: Guillem Morales, Oriol Paulo • PRO: Mercedes Gamero, Joaquín Padró, Mar Targarona, Guillermo del Toro • DOP: Óscar Faura • ED: Joan Manel Vilaseca • DES: Balter Gallart • Cast: Belén Rueda, Lluís Homar, Pablo Derqui

Unlike Asian horror movieswhich enjoyed a flash-in-the-pan moment of popularity, Spanish horror remains steadily enjoyed by the English speaking market. This may be because it is more readily accessible and understandable than it’s Asian counterpart, but a lot of the credit must also go to Guillermo Del Toro for championing the homegrown talent in his native tongue.

After hitting pay dirt with The Orphanage a few years ago, Del Toro presents another horror with a heart. Belen Rueda plays an astrophysicist who is suffering from a degenerative disease which will eventually leave her totally blind. Her twin sister, who suffered from the same disease, has apparently just killed herself on the eve of a sight-saving operation, but Rueda believes she was murdered, and takes it upon herself to find out what really happened.

Less out and out horror, more whodunit with some tense moments, the film takes the issue of blindness very seriously, wringing both true emotion and real fear from the topic. Rueda brings the same levels of strength and fragility she displayed in The Orphanage, and for the second half of the film when the camera seems to focus almost exclusively on her face, her performance is almost Oscar®-worthy.

But even though it runs in at two hours, the film feels about twenty minutes too long. And at one point, it does appear that every single character in the movie is out to get our leading lady. So when it comes to blindness based horror movies, Asian flick The Eye still leads the pack. But Julia’s Eyes is a close second.

Rory Cashin

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
Julia’s Eyes is released on 20th May 2011

Julia’s Eyes – Official Website

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